There's a reason why the Hollywood adage "Never work with children" has stood the test of time. And it's not just because it's a nightmare to get toddlers to hit their marks or stop picking their noses 'til the shot's in the can. It's also because anklebiters have brought about the downfall of many a box-office giant - just look at Arnold Schwarzenegger, who twice came a cropper with Kindergarten Cop and Jingle All The Way. Steve Martin would seem to be the exception to the rule. Parenthood scored big back in 1989, and provided old rubberface with one of his best roles to date. Now Cheaper By The Dozen has got US tills ringing... Despite being distinctly mediocre.
The wild-and-crazy guy here stars as Tom, 13th kid in the Baker family. So imagine the craziness that ensues when his wife (Bonnie Hunt) disappears on a book tour. Not only does Tom have to get to grips with his new job as a football coach, but he has to cope with crashing chandeliers, escaped snakes and a gang of tykes who would test the patience of Mother Teresa. It's not so much "Who's the daddy?" as "Where's the nanny?"
Pretty much reprising his role from Parenthood, Martin plays to his strengths but is let down by a weak script (credited to four screenwriters, no less) and shoddy direction. Comedies like these are all about the laugh-out-loud moments, and Dozen has but two: a family breakfast that's spectacularly trashed when one of the kid's pet frogs leaps into a bowl of scrambled eggs; and the nippers' destruction of Hank (Ashton Kutcher), the grown-up the rugrats love to hate. Okay, so smearing his boxer shorts in a pot of raw meat and setting the family pooch on him may not sound like comedy genius, but it's close.
For the most part, however, Cheaper By The Dozen looks as tired as a three-legged racehorse. Partly that's because, aforementioned guffaws aside, director Shawn Just Married Levy wouldn't know how to set up a decent gag even if he slipped over one and landed in a vat of custard. Yet it's also because the feeble script, loosely adapted from an obscure '50s clunker of the same name, is so lame and tedious. Watching one obnoxious American kid playing a smart arse is bad enough, but having to endure nine of the little blighters, plus three teenagers (tweenage princess Hilary Duff, Smallville heartthrob Tom Welling and Coyote Ugly's Piper Perabo) is downright annoying. By the time the closing credits roll, complete with outtakes of the petulant kiddie actors moaning and wailing through each and every take, you might well be convinced that Cheaper By The Dozen is a family movie that makes a very good case for birth control.
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Cloying and annoying, Cheaper By The Dozen proves that the more the merrier isn't always true. Don't help it match its US success over here.